MIAA boys basketball: Late run propels New Mission into Div. 5 finals with 60-49 victory over Pioneer (PHOTOS)

Pioneer’s Kurt Redeker (3) goes up for a basket against New Mission during the Panthers’ 60-49 loss in the MIAA Division 5 boys basketball state semifinal game at Worcester State University on Wednesday.

Pioneer’s Kurt Redeker (3) goes up for a basket against New Mission during the Panthers’ 60-49 loss in the MIAA Division 5 boys basketball state semifinal game at Worcester State University on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Pioneer’s Kurt Redeker splits New Mission defenders in the MIAA Division 5 boys basketball state semifinal game at Worcester State University on Wednesday.

Pioneer’s Kurt Redeker splits New Mission defenders in the MIAA Division 5 boys basketball state semifinal game at Worcester State University on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

The Pioneer boys basketball team stands during the anthem before playing New Mission in the MIAA Division 5 boys basketball state semifinal game at Worcester State University on Wednesday.

The Pioneer boys basketball team stands during the anthem before playing New Mission in the MIAA Division 5 boys basketball state semifinal game at Worcester State University on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

The Pioneer boys basketball team heads back to the bench after congratulating New Mission following the MIAA Division 5 boys basketball state semifinal game at Worcester State University on Wednesday.

The Pioneer boys basketball team heads back to the bench after congratulating New Mission following the MIAA Division 5 boys basketball state semifinal game at Worcester State University on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Pioneer’s Brayden Thayer dribbles around a New Mission defender in the MIAA Division 5 boys basketball state semifinal game at Worcester State University on Wednesday.

Pioneer’s Brayden Thayer dribbles around a New Mission defender in the MIAA Division 5 boys basketball state semifinal game at Worcester State University on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Pioneer’s Josh Wood goes up for two against New Mission in the MIAA Division 5 boys basketball state semifinal game at Worcester State University on Wednesday.

Pioneer’s Josh Wood goes up for two against New Mission in the MIAA Division 5 boys basketball state semifinal game at Worcester State University on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By THOMAS JOHNSTON

Staff Writer

Published: 03-13-2024 8:30 PM

WORCESTER — With a spot in the MIAA Division 5 state championship game on the line, nothing came easy for either Pioneer or the New Mission boys basketball teams on Wednesday at Worcester State University. 

Joseph Jackson swished a 3-pointer just before the third quarter buzzer sounded to give the second-seeded Titans a 41-38 lead going into the final eight minutes of action. 

Both teams traded baskets early in the fourth before Pioneer’s Kurt Redeker got to the rim with 3:30 to go, tying the score at 47. New Mission answered with a 3 on the other end and the floodgates opened from there, as a steal led to an easy Jackson layup on the other end and following another steal, Jamari Toney-Simmons threw down a dunk that gave the Titans a 54-47 lead with 2:15 to go. 

That run proved to the killer for third-seeded Pioneer, which managed just one basket the rest of the way as New Mission reached the title game via a 60-49 victory. 

The Titans (18-6) will face top-seeded Hoosac in the championship game on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Tsongas Center in Lowell. 

“Being in this spot as long as I have, it’s never an easy ending,” Panthers coach Scott Thayer said. “The winning and losing isn’t the biggest thing; it’s the relationships that you build through the years trying to get to this spot. These kids have been doing this for the last two or three years. As you go along, those relationships grow tighter. When you lose, they’re in there hugging each other because it means as much to the guy next to them as it does them.”

It was two runs that proved costly for Pioneer; the one at the end of the game as well as a big push from New Mission to close out the first half. 

Josh Wood connected on a 3 that gave the Panthers (18-6) a 30-25 lead late in the second quarter but the Titans closed the half on a 7-0 run behind a 3-pointer from Jackson, a layup off a steal from Musa Fofana and a basket just before the half ended from Damius Desir.

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Still, it was just a 32-30 deficit for Pioneer at the break. 

“We had the game where we wanted it,” Thayer said. “I thought 32-30 was a little high but we were making shots. We had that little 45 second letdown where we have a five-point lead and then they’re up 32-30 at the half. If we go into the half up 30-28 the dynamics change a bit. When we had it 47-47 with three minutes to go we thought we were good. We lost focus, the wrong guys handling the ball, we turn it over and you see how quickly they transition into points.” 

It was a physical game throughout, with New Mission’s depth and overall athleticism wearing on Pioneer, especially late in the game. 

“I thought the physicality would help us,” Scott Thayer said. “At some point they have to call stuff and we shoot foul shots well. If we’re leading, they have to come get the ball, and I like our chances making foul shots. The game plan never changed. We play better when it’s physical but we haven’t played a team who was that physical and athletic as that. We’ve played teams who have kids who are athletic and physical like that but not all five players. They wore us down at every position.” 

The Titans opened up a 14-10 lead early but Kurt Redeker and Jackson Glazier closed out the quarter with baskets for Pioneer, knotting the game at 14 after eight minutes. 

Redeker — who led the Panthers with 19 points — scored six of those points in the second quarter, Hugh Cyhowski tallied four points in the second while Brayden Thayer and Wood knocked down 3s, giving Pioneer its 30-25 lead in the second quarter. 

Both teams struggled from the field in the third quarter, and each side tallied just three field goals apiece. Jackson scored a pair of baskets for New Mission that helped it take a 38-33 lead before Redeker got inside for two and converted an and-one that tied the game at 38. Jackson’s 3 gave the Titans their 41-38 lead going into the fourth. 

Wood opened the fourth quarter with a basket before Thayer drained a deep 3 that gave Pioneer a 43-41 lead. Toney-Simmons countered with a 3 on the other end but Thayer made a pair of free throws after Toney-Simmons was whistled for a technical foul. 

Lawrence Jaja-Smith converted an and-one following a steal before Redeker scored to knot the game at 47. 

Redeker added a basket late that cut the lead to 55-49 but New Mission threw down a pair of dunks after beating the Pioneer press to put the game away. 

With Thayer playing on a hurt ankle, the Titans were able to force numerous turnovers via their press in the fourth quarter. 

“Brayden had a bum ankle where he couldn’t push off,” Scott Thayer said. “One thing we have to work on with the younger kids is being able to handle that kind of pressure. It was a cumulative effect of their pressure and how it was reffed. They let them be physical and it eventually wore us out.” 

Thayer scored 11 points, Cyhowski finished with eight points while Wood tallied seven points in the loss.

Jackson led New Mission with 18 points, Toney-Simmons scored 13 points while Solis Blue recorded 11 points. 

With numerous key players back, expect the Panthers to make another run at a state title next winter. 

“I think we can be right back at this point again,” Thayer said. “With Brayden, Kurt and Alex back, those are three of our better players. Brayden and Kurt play all year long and will get better. Everyone will get physically stronger. We might play a little bit differently but I’m looking again to have a good year.”